Sunday, November 30, 2008

Far From Feeling

I read Marginal Revolution. There found a link to the Typealyzer. It parses the text of a submitted URL and then makes an automated attempt to show the parts of the brain that were dominant during writing.

So, this is not really me, but this is my blog:

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy [sic] attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality.

So far so "good" ... but it finishes with:

Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

Obviously not true?

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Length DID Matter

Diversion. A few of my favourite things. Guests on the classic BBC radio show Desert Island Discs are allowed to choose eight records. I know it's only a hypothetical game, but it's not called "your eight top tracks". So why don't guests choose longer tracks to maximise enjoyment? My epic list here.

1. Bat out of Hell - Meat Loaf

Possibly Jim Steinman's best known song, but as already noted here, I could have taken almost any of his works.

2. Grendel - Marillion

Not just because it is 18 minutes of the finest interplay between keyboard and guitar ever recorded, but an interesting story too, the first great epic of English literature told from the perspective of the beast rather than the traditional hero.

3. Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Iron Maiden

Obviously fine poetry, but also the epitome of the new wave of British heavy metal.

4. Kowtow - Pendragon

I first heard it live at the Marquee Club back in the days when I went to gigs. Astounding.

5. The Future Just Aint What it Used to Be - Pandora's Box

Another Jim Steinman composition, but this time the rock opera equivalent of a soulful ballad.

I'll stop here. So that still leaves three songs for another time.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bloody Bombay Bombers

I did actually write a few words here on Wednesday evening but withheld hitting the "post" button. Methinks there was some insight there, but my gut reaction to the attack on Mumbai did not make pleasant reading. One day, when the war is over, then perhaps I'll publish it.

For now I'm going to try to think of some softer material for a few days till the dust settles and the red mist clears.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Big Apple

One of my old posts has been picked up today at the world's favourite Metrotwin site. At last. Superb.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Network Design

I mentioned that I did database design. From early readings of Codd and Date nearly two decades ago, have spent a professional lifetime grappling with the practical implementations of third normal form relational models and also their "modern" multidimensional variants. The process of mapping real world phenomena to basic binary patterns is to me the single most important factor in the success of any computer system, so it's no surprise that I genuinely enjoy it.

As with the central nervous system of any organism, as with the human brain, as with consciousness itself, it is the pattern of connections that defines its being and purpose - it is the topology of the neural network that determines who we are, not the physical implentation of that pattern. You could lose any nerve in your body, but if that nerve were replaced by an equivalent electrical transmitter with the same trigger and firing mechanism, then your essence would be unchanged, your personality would be unchanged, your thoughts would be unchanged. Every thought that we have is the process of creating new connections.

But as it is topology that counts, on a data model or a tube map or a nervous system, the representation of that network on a two dimensional sheet can be shown in any number of apparently different ways, but so long as the relationship of nodes to connectors is the same then the processing will be the same. It does not matter to the logic of an electrical circuit if the wires are layed out differently. However, where art meets science, it matters to me. Certain patterns of symmetry and chaos are considered more pleasing than others, possibly where those resonate with basic natural patterns. So the "look" of a data model matters - not so much as its topology, but it still matters.

So network design is a massive subject, one that can't really be summarised within brief guidelines. But top five principles of representing network design to follow shortly.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

B of the Bang

Councils in the UK are often sued for frivolous, even dishonest reasons. Examples here.

But in an almost literal reversal of fortune, the makers of a supposedly dangerous sculpture this week paid over a million pounds in compensation to Manchester City Council. Story here.

Now I have noticed something similar in my own home town, and I'm wondering who I can sue. Admittedly it took many years to be constructed up to its full height, but now it is equally tall and equally threatening. Bits seem to fall off it every year. It seems to inspire strange yobbish behaviour. It's probably of foreign build - up in Scandinavia I've seen lines of similar sculptures stretching for vast distances.

Oh, it's a christmas tree.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Free Will Defined

Yes, I know that my previous note quoted Rush completely out of context, I know the lyrics actually appear to be a simple rejection of astrological and theological bullshit rather than any serious objectivist anthem, and it was certainly not written to be a justification for indecision.

But within the simplified hundred-word school-level boundaries of this blog, can I define free will? Without recourse to any Kant or Locke or Hume. Define it to be a useful phrase in a practical sense with no philosophical spin at all. Free will as it should be defined, here today.

Free will is simply an expression of the fact that nobody else can control your thoughts. Nobody else can read your mind. If only you see a coin turn to heads or tails, nobody else can tell which it was. Sure there are machines that might start to use predictive indicators such as sweat and blood flow and even general areas of brain activity to start to approximate your maniacal tendencies. But today those are expensive unreliable fakeable proxy indicators.

Nobody else can read your thoughts, let alone control them. That's it.

Monday, November 17, 2008


See jhal. If Lewis Carroll and Douglas Adams and Stephen Fry can coin their own words, then so can I.

Without the "n", the word is a well known import from Germany. But the original carries strong negative connotations, malicious pleasure from the discomfort of others. And that is not nice.

But sometimes the others are your friends, people for whom you genuinely wish well. Yet occasionally, despite your best advice, they may make the wrong decision. Free will. No harm done, but a lesson learned. Schadenfreunde.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Free Will

This is not going to be a textbook philosophical treatise, more just the view from the hangover after a big night out.

There is an oft-quoted saying - that people regret more of the things they didn't do than the things they did do ...

but like all oft-quoted sayings, that's a load of context-specific twaddle.

Sometimes you might think that you'll regret not going somewhere - but when you later learn the fate of those who did go there, then you'll be grateful. Grateful to whom? To your own decision-making capability.

Or as noted by Neil Peart - if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Frying Language

Oh frabjous day. I love it when "someone famous" expresses the same opinion that I've been banging on about here since the dawn of blogtime, especially when that "someone famous" is a linktastic legend. Five quotes almost randomly selected from 5000 words of pure bliss:

1. People seem to be able to find sensual and sensuous pleasure in almost anything but words these days. Words, it seems belong to other people, anyone who expresses themselves with originality, delight and verbal freshness is more likely to be mocked, distrusted or disliked than welcomed. The free and happy use of words appears to be considered elitist or pretentious.
Yes. Leave my words alone.

2. the only people who seem to bother with language in public today bother with it in quite the wrong way. They write letters to broadcasters and newspapers in which they are rude and haughty about other people’s usage and in which they show off their own superior ‘knowledge’ of how language should be. I hate that, and I particularly hate the fact that so many of these pedants assume that I’m on their side.
He's not, and I'm not.

3. There are all kinds of pedants around with more time to read and imitate Lynne Truss and John Humphrys than to write poems, love-letters, novels and stories [but] Do they ever yoke impossible words together for the sound-sex of it? ... Do they? I doubt it. They’re too farting busy sneering at a greengrocer’s less than perfect use of the apostrophe. Well sod them to Hades.
My echo - Trussed or Trust.

4. The worst of this sorry bunch of semi-educated losers are those who seem to glory in being irritated by nouns becoming verbs. How dense and deaf to language development do you have to be?
I call it Consultantspeak

5. I think what offends [us] when confronted with extremely informal, unpunctuated and haywire language is the implication of not caring that underlies it. ... But that is an issue of fitness, of suitability, it has nothing to do with correctness. ... Context, convention and circumstance are all.
Exactly. I actually said context and implied meaning were everything. Close enough.

He even recommends Steven Pinker! The whole blessay is excellent. However, Mr Fry, there is something to be said for conciseness too.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Burying Bridges

There were once-in-a-generation news headlines this week. The presidential election (RB wins). The drastic cut in interest rates (RB loses). These massive stories are a chance for political cowards to bury bad news.

That's what Boris Johnson and his gang seems to have done. For all the pre-mayoral-election talk of needing to regenerate and improve London's infrastructure, yesterday there was a little announcement that ten major capital projects have been scrapped.

Now some cuts I could understand. But one particular cancellation is just wrong. I have been driving around London for much of the last twenty years. Travel is often difficult bordering on impossible. But (in my opinion) the single worst bottleneck in the entire city is the Blackwall Tunnel.

The western stretch of the Thames has bridges every few hundred yards. Yet between the central Tower Bridge and the Essex-Kent QEII bridge, covering at least ten miles of river with high population density on both sides, there is nothing else. Well almost nothing, another ancient tunnel that has only one narrow winding lane each way, and a single unreliable ferry. But this is obviously not enough, as each of these crossings is still at full capacity. Even the costly Dartford crossing. And that approach should solve the cost conundrum. There is so much pent-up demand that any new bridge would surely pay for itself, as much as any new road anywhere in the world possibly could. It is just madness to go ahead with the massive Thames Gateway housebuilding project unless there is a corresponding Thames Gateway infrastructure project.

Three disclaimers: I cross the river frequently; I accept marginal traffic charges; and did I mention that I like bridges?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

K K Konquered

There has apparently been a major election recently. You might have heard about it, it's been on the news. There is a new president on the block.

I used to live there, so I take more of an interest than much of the world. Yet I don't really have a strong opinion on this one. Without knowing the details, the new president seems a decent choice. It seems a good thing that the more internationalist more educated professional economist beat the more populist darling of the redneck community, though it was a very close race.

Yes, in Zambia, according to BBC news this week, Mr Rupiah Banda has been sworn in as president, just hours after officials said he had narrowly won Thursday's election.

Meanwhile, in America, at least, at last, there is hope.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Kitchen Space

The basic layout of the typical house has changed radically over the last couple of centuries in the western world, and over the last couple of decades in the developing east.

Take the kitchen. In the traditional English Victorian house this was way out the back, cold and unfurnished except for necessary appliances. In India, even in the new build of twenty years ago, the kitchen has even less prominence. While the living area could be elegant, light and spacious - the kitchen could be a cupboard space with barely enough opening for the smoke fumes.

Of course the reasons are obvious. The kitchen is used by the lower class, the cooks, the servants. Not for the real homeowners.

Things are changing today. When we bought our place five years ago, we chose one with a completely open plan ground floor. The kitchen is just an intrinsic part of the "living room."

Changing subject, look around your workplace. If the temporary workers are the ones sitting in the cold gloomy corners, if the engine room of your department is kept in the dark, what does that say about your organisation?